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Thanks to the Promo Products Community

Filed under: Community, News About ASI, Research

I love nothing better than hearing “thank you,” especially from a business that’s acknowledging how much I mean to them as a customer or client. So I’d like to take this opportunity to send out a great big “thanks” of my own to everyone in the industry who’s completed a survey, participated in a focus group or sent me an email. I’d also like to express my appreciation for the over 2,000 ASI members who joined the ASI Marketing Research panel.

I literally could not do my job as ASI’s director of marketing research without help from every one of you.

With the information you so generously provide, ASI is able to prepare and share a ton of important data with the industry. The most important, perhaps, is the input you send us as we prepare for our annual Counselor State of the Industry (SOI) report, a mega-effort we’re kicking off this week.

The SOI study helps shape our understanding of the advertising specialties industry as a whole and provides a forward-looking view into what’s ahead. The results are always widely shared, in Counselor magazine’s special State of the Industry issue, which is dedicated to the study, as well as through numerous citations in newspapers and magazines all year long. In 2013, the issue even won a prestigious Jesse H. Neal Award, considered the Pulitzer Prize of business press – and the 2014 issue (see cover at right) recently was named a finalist for another one.

In addition to loads of stats and graphics, the SOI issue contains info designed to help any sized company plan strategically for the future, grow their business, streamline operations and tap new and emerging markets. Along with winning tips and tactics and growth strategies, the SOI issue also profiles that year’s Counselor Award winners – including the Person of the Year – and publishes the revenue and ranking of Top 40 distributor and supplier companies.

Here’s how you can contribute (and earn my sincere thanks once again!):

Counselor is currently polling professionals in the industry – both distributors and suppliers – to find out how the market did in 2014 and to get their impressions on where the industry is headed in 2015. Your input is invaluable. Please take 10 minutes to click the appropriate link below and complete the State of the Industry survey.

  • To complete this year’s Distributor State of the Industry, please click here.
  • To complete this year’s Supplier State of the Industry, please click here.

If you haven’t read the 2014 issue yet (available in print and online at www.asicentral.com/soi), please check it out. ASI editorial staffers spend months gathering and analyzing key sales, marketing and operational metrics used by most of you to provide useable info tailor-made for our industry. The accompanying graphics also provide valuable snapshots of what’s up, down and trending.

I’d also love to know if there’s a topic, trend or strategy we might have missed or not given enough attention to, so please either post a comment or email me at nkucsma@asicentral.com.

Hear that? It’s me, thanking you in advance for participating.

– Nathaniel Kucsma, ASI’s director of marketing research


Playing To Win In Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, News About ASI

Troy Aikman, ASI’s keynote speaker in Dallas, had a great excuse for running a couple minutes later than I expected to our show on Thursday: He was dropping his two young daughters off at school, something the 48-year-old dad does every day, no matter what.

It says a lot when a guy worth an estimated $25 million drives his own car, runs his own errands and makes family a priority. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback even told us his favorite pastime when he’s not working as a FOX sportscaster is spending time with his daughters, aged 12 and 13.

“I don’t want to be corny, but I hang out with my girls,” he told the 600 people at the keynote at the ASI Show Dallas, which ended Thursday after three days at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, attracting 485 exhibitors and 3,435 attendees from 49 states and 19 countries, with distributor attendance up about 4% over 2014.

All told, a record 20 companies chose Dallas to host their sales meetings, an increase of 15% over the previous year. The show also attracted 270 female-owned and 230 minority-owned businesses, which I was very happy to see.

Aikman was not what I expected. When we first met backstage in the green room he seemed low key and almost subdued. But once he got on stage, he really came to life, telling fascinating and often funny stories about growing up in California and Oklahoma, where his family raised cows, horses and chickens on 240 acres.

I always find that when you ask someone about their upbringing, you learn fascinating things. In Aikman’s case, even though he took one of the most successful teams in the history of the game to the Super Bowl three times, he came off confident without being arrogant. That’s an admirable trait a lot of successful people can’t manage to pull off.

He also offered some insight into the Cowboys as an organization, and the tough but fair leadership of former Dallas Coach Jimmy Johnson, who told him, “You don’t coach a player to what he is, you coach him to what you want him to be.”

Aikman expected his teammates to know their roles and treat professional football like the job it is. “People get fired for not knowing their assignments in the real world,” he said. “My job as quarterback was to do whatever it takes to win.”

Surprisingly, football wasn’t Aikman’s first choice. In high school, he also played baseball and basketball and only signed up for high school football so he wouldn’t disappoint his father. Even as he racked up success on the playing field in college and with the Cowboys he never stopped working hard.

Even his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, when the team won only a single game, taught him a valuable lesson. “It served me well later in life,” said Aikman. “I never forgot how hard it is to win. I never forgot what it was like to lose a game.”

Not surprisingly, he said, “My career surpassed my wildest dreams. I can’t complain at all.” How many among us can say that – and mean it?

For complete coverage of the show, including blogs, photo and videos, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com. And, search for our hashtag, #ASIDallas.

Upcoming 2015 ASI Shows are Long Beach (March 24-26), New York (May 5-6) and Chicago (July 14-16). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2015, contact Karen DiTomasso, vice president of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com.


Game On in Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, News About ASI

Since I live and work so close to Philadelphia, I’ve become a big fan of the Eagles football team. In 2005, I was even lucky enough to watch them play in Super Bowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots in Jacksonville, Florida – a very big deal for someone whose high school was too small to support its own football team.

Now I’m gearing up for a Q&A with one of the greatest players of our time, three-time Super Bowl champ and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who graciously agreed to step in as a last-minute keynote speaker at the ASI Show® in Dallas. I’ll interview Aikman, an Emmy-nominated FOX sportscaster, Thursday, February 5, at 8:30 a.m. at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, on the final day of our three-day show.

If you have any questions for Troy, please post a comment or email me at tim.andrews@asicentral.com.

Most recently, Aikman jumped into the fray over the “deflategate” controversy, going so far as to call for severe punishments for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick for those deflated footballs. I like a guy who speaks his mind and can’t wait to see what else he has to say about life on and off the field.

Aikman is sure to have some great stories about working for one of the most recognizable brands in the world and how he transitioned from one successful career to another without missing a beat.

In addition to the Q&A, Dallas offers a ton of other highlights:

  • Concurrent Education Programs, with 45 courses on Tuesday’s education day, 9 a.m.-4:25 p.m., with all sessions qualifying for points toward the ASI Certification Program.
  • The Joe Show Live Tuesday morning, hosted by Joe Haley.
  • The new Explorers Club, featuring rock climbing at Summit Gym, and the Diner’s Club at Bolsa Dallas on Tuesday.
  • The new Yoga Club and Runner’s Club on Wednesday.
  • Gala celebration at Eddie Deen’s Ranch Wednesday night.

Click here for the complete schedule with times, etc.

If you see me in Texas, please be sure to stop me and say hello.


Sharing Our Story

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

Earlier this week, I sat down with a group of distributors to discuss an informative 30-minute program ASI has aired on a few cable stations that we hope captures the excitement of this business, the power of promotional products and its importance to marketers. The distributors’ concerns and questions over the program echo some online discussions making the rounds, and I appreciated the opportunity to share my own feelings and answer some questions.

Our main goal in airing the program was to communicate why we’re all in this industry and what it can do for others looking for an interesting career and a new way to be successful. Through initiatives like this program and ASI’s long-running education and PR outreach, we’re hopeful business-minded people and entrepreneurs – and especially more women, young people and minorities – will get interested enough in our industry to learn more.  Maybe they’ll join as distributors, become account execs for a current distributor, or even start buying promo products to get the word out about their own business.

The very closely focused test with the program is nearly complete, and we won’t be able to judge for several months if it was worth the investment – measured by people who respond for information, attend some follow-up online educational sessions and other metrics for these types of programs. In terms of the test, it’s been run in a few markets, airing weekends or late at night to a few thousand viewers, similar to a direct-mail campaign that any distributor, supplier or decorator might conduct.

To put this test into perspective, we haven’t been airing the program during the Super Bowl to 100 million people. We deliberately chose to air it over specialized cable networks like CNBC and Fox News with visibility only to entrepreneurs and people looking for a career switch or a second career – people likely with business acumen that would add to our industry.  We worked with outside experts to identify the couple of channels that would include entrepreneurial business types and specifically exclude general consumers.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, more than one person at the table of distributors in Vegas told me they got into this industry after learning about it through word of mouth, from a friend or through a distributor they met at places like church.  Today, social media and video are the new word of mouth and the ways friends keep in touch and share new ideas.

For over 60 years, ASI has worked hard to communicate the excitement we all feel about this business, scoring numerous positive stories in major national outlets like the Wall Street Journal and on networks like MSNBC.  Equally as important, we’ve worked to protect the integrity of the industry by championing a strong business model that supports the success of both suppliers and distributors. We’re not about to change now.

But everyone doing business in today’s world is facing new challenges and with them new opportunities. Now more than ever, we need to work together to keep the industry healthy and viable – and growing.  Worries about possible competition should be outweighed by the need for a strong, diverse, growing work force.  And more and more people understanding our $20.5 billion industry provides great ROI for invested marketing dollars.

At the same time, it’s as important to us as it is to you that anyone joining the industry is interested in sourcing products for resale to prospects and customers.  From time to time I hear from a current distributor that someone who isn’t qualified has joined ASI. Often, this is a bit of a story passed down the lane, with no direct information.  But in other cases we’ve been provided hard contact information and always fully investigated the situation.  Sometimes the rumor isn’t true.  But in the few cases when it has been, we’ve kicked them out for misrepresentation.  If you ever have any questions about someone’s true intentions, please let me know.  We’ll investigate to make sure they meet ASI’s qualifications, which remain the same for new distributors no matter how or when they join – without exception.  And we’ll let you know the outcome.

During my chat in Vegas, the distributors also suggested ASI reach out to colleges and college students and introduce budding entrepreneurs and marketers to an industry they might not even know exists.  Business students learn about buying and using TV, radio and Internet advertising, direct mail and everything else under the sun, but marketing programs rarely mention the power of promotional products and their incredible ROI.

We’re already on this, but are looking to do even more.

For two years, ASI has worked with Babson College to help business students and budding entrepreneurs gain work experience in the promotional products industry. (For more info on that program, click here). We’re now expanding that outreach to other schools, hoping to encourage other business colleges to join us in helping teach tomorrow’s entrepreneurs about this exciting, creative industry.

If you have any ideas about other partnerships we can pursue, or schools we might contact, please let me know.  Personal connections make these types of trials and introductions much more effective.

As always, I do want to know what you think.  So please email me here to further discuss these or any other issues.  And certainly feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment to this blog.


Give Big or Go Home

Filed under: Members, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

The results of ASI’s just-released corporate gift-giving survey show six in 10 companies plan on thanking clients and employees with holiday gifts this year. What’s most surprising to me is that the number isn’t 10 in 10. Smart business owners know the best way to keep clients coming back – or to court new business – is to show appreciation.

Gifts don’t have to be extravagant, but according to Advantages magazine annual “Gift Guide,” gifts that are thoughtful, cool, unique or useful will provide the greatest ROI.

While I admit I lingered over the celebrity robotic avatar offered in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog (asi/59444) for a mere $345,000, a more reasonable choice for clients might be titanium luggage tags from Eddystone Designs (asi/51666). They’re terrific – indestructible, color laser-printed and shimmery to boot. I expect to own mine forever.

According to our survey, the main goal of giving gifts to customers is to express appreciation and develop relationships, as well as to generate good will and increase company awareness. I know whether I receive a Swiss chocolate tower, etched bottle of wine or a bacon-scented iPhone alarm clock this year, I’ll remember the giver for months, if not years – especially if it’s logoed. After all, phenomenal advertiser recall is what promotional products are all about.

For 2014, survey respondents told us that when choosing a gift, they consider an item’s attractiveness, durability and usefulness above all else. This year, nothing says “useful” like an imprinted power charger – a high-tech item that’s riding the rage wave. Give it to clients and they’ll carry it everywhere they go, from home to office to airport lounge.

Sure, you might consider giving a few top clients a case of lobsters or a branded (and memorable) Adirondack chair from AAA Innovations (asi/30023). But our survey results show most companies plan to spend an average of $43 per customer or prospective customer, with food/beverages, desk accessories, writing instruments and calendars topping the list.

When it comes to rewarding employees, most companies are spending about $50 per worker, with gift cards, food/beverages, apparel and cash bonuses as the most popular choices. Here at ASI, we thank each of our full-time employees with a check at our annual holiday party. You might consider a high-quality optical crystal slanted block clocks from Best Deal Awards (asi/47791).

If you’re still unsure what to give, or what to suggest to clients planning their holiday orders, here are a few tips culled from the pages of ASI’s magazines:

  • Don’t overlook packaging. There are all kinds of custom options available from suppliers, from playful to sophisticated. Plus, even though food and beverages go quick, if they’re packaged in a nice basket, bowl or imprinted wine carrier, it’ll be front and center all year along.
  • Remember the branding. This year, according to our survey, 68% of corporate gifts will sport a company logo.
  • Give the gift some real thought. One client raved to Advantages about receiving a custom pink superhero cape imprinted with her company logo, which made her feel like Wonder Woman. Another company gave employees a custom skateboard designed by the agency’s own creative team to symbolize their company’s “ride into the future.”
  • If it’s a client who loves quality, consider artisan items made with glass, fabric or leather, which can all be personalized.
  • Consider reliable standards like calendars. Triumph by BIC Graphic say that while some may consider calendars “old fashioned,” 74% of recipients remember the name of the advertiser who gave them a calendar and a whopping 75% of all households still rely on colorful kitchen calendars.

The bottom line is that people love gifts. When we asked survey respondents about the best corporate gift they ever received, answers ranged from days off, gift cards and a donation made to the recipient’s favorite charity all the way to fishing rods, Cincinnati Reds tickets in the corporate suite, blown glass insulated beer glasses and a weekend stay at a resort – with babysitting included.

Finally, even though December is the biggest gift-giving month of the year, you could set yourself apart from the crowd by sending your gifts out on, say, Penguin Awareness Day on January 20.

Let me know your gift-giving plans by posting a comment or emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Steal This Study

Filed under: Community, Member Benefits, News About ASI, Research

It’s here: ASI’s groundbreaking global research report packed with stats and graphics to help you convince customers to spend more of their marketing moolah on promo products.

Click here for a quick, catchy YouTube video on the study and here to ASI’s 2014 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study in its entirety.You’ll also find easy-to-understand graphics to save and share. I encourage you to post the video and the study link (www.asicentral.com/study) on your own business website to further spread the word about the incredible power of promo products.

The strongest number to tout is promo products’ commanding advertiser recall among 85% of consumers surveyed. People really remember the advertiser on logoed items, largely because they see or use them nearly every day.  In fact, most people own about 10 items they generally keep for seven months.

Can you remember a single advertiser from the last time you watched TV? I’m betting you can’t. Perform this simple test on your next potential customer and you just might score a sale.

ASI conducted its first comprehensive research study in 2006. In a nod to our increasingly global marketplace, this year’s study contains far greater global reach, and features several differences worth noting. For the first time we:

  • Conducted all interviews face-to-face, versus a mix of in-person and online
  • Focused on Europe as a whole
  • Polled end-buyers in Mexico
  • Emphasized regional and country-by-country trends and differences.

This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.

Through conversations with real people who get, use and share ad specialties, we gauged the reach of products, consumer’s perceptions, their influence on buying decisions and their influence on the perception of the advertiser.

After thousands of interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia we can say with certainty that ad specialties are one of the most high-impact, cost-effective advertising mediums around.

And, since knowing the likely recipient of products is paramount for an advertiser, we made sure to include demographic information broken down by political affiliation, ethnicity, gender, age and income.

What’s most impressive is that no matter where we polled consumers, we found end-buyers who feel good about the brands on promo products they use day in and day out. When’s the last time an annoying TV or radio commercial made you feel good? I rest my case!

Another conclusion that resonated with me: First and foremost, consumers want products that are useful, like pens and USB drives. In Canada, 82% of consumers polled said that’s why they kept branded items, the highest percentage of any country.

The study is a living document that’s meant to be used – not scanned once and forgotten. It’s powerful data you can, and should, refer to again and again. Cherry-pick graphics that work best for your business and post them, share them and pass them out on sales calls.

Let me know how you plan to use this study in your business by posting a comment, emailing me here or posting to ASI’s Facebook page. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Into the Future

Filed under: Community, Member Benefits, Members, News About ASI, Research, Using Ad Specialties

A major theme of this year’s U.S. Power Summit was helping prepare the promotional products industry for the future. The keynote speaker, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard, advised business leaders committed to growth to hire more people who can deliver different solutions to the organization, while futurist John Smart encouraged companies to invest in e-commerce and mobile platforms.

And since suppliers and distributors must be prepared to meet the ever-growing demand for faster service and order processing, we also invited industry experts to discuss the “need for speed” during a session highlighted by an actual drone demo. While flying drones (pictured, right) are really cool, our bigger point in bringing them to the power summit was to get industry people to start thinking about ways they can be utilized in in areas like warehouse inventory and Amazon-like delivery.

This year, the 2014 ASI® Power Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, attracted about 200 of the most influential distributors, suppliers and decorators in the industry. From the early feedback I’ve gotten, everyone enjoyed the superior content and business discussions, which were helped along during fun activities like golf and a visit to a nearby ranch for lassoing and skeet shooting. The fine scotch helped too, I’m sure.

Click here for Facebook photos of the action.

We packed a lot into three days. During my Q&A with alphabroder CEO Norman Hullinger, we even broke some news about his plans to double the size of the company in the next five years – and for sales to hit $1.6 billion. In 2013, the number-one supplier on the Counselor® Top 40 list posted sales of $697 million.

Future growth for alphabroder will come from acquisitions and organic growth, especially growth in ad specialty distributorships. But the really big news from alphabroder concerned expanding beyond apparel to a line of hard goods – an expansion that will likely come about through acquisitions as well as internally.

Throughout the power summit, ASI’s editorial staffers provided full coverage of happenings along with video interviews from all major presentations. To read more:

When I say we packed a lot into this year’s U.S. Power Summit, I mean we packed a lot into this gathering. We also released the names of the industry’s most powerful people with the 2014 Counselor Power 50 list. Click here to read our press release with more detail and click here for the full list, topped by Marty Lott and Jeremy Lott of SanMar.

Finally, we also released the 2014 Global Advertising Impressions Study, a cost analysis of promotional products versus other advertising media. For the study, our research team conducted thousands of in-person interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia. This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.

Ultimately, the comprehensive study provides buyers and sellers of promo products with powerful data to convince clients worldwide that ad specialties can increase sales and brand exposure.

Click here to watch an awesome YouTube video on the study results and here to read the study in its entirety.

If you were at the Power Summit, thanks for joining us! I’d love to know what you thought – and any suggestions you may have for next year’s event, which we’re already planning at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, CA in November 2015 (www.asicentral.com/psreg).

Please feel free to post a comment or email me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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